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Full text of "Last advice of the Rev. Charles Pettigrew to his sons, 1797"

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My Dear Sons, — Life is precarious, and it is not 
likely that I shall remain long with you. The symp- 
toms of a radical decay of constitution indicate the ap- 
proach of my dissolution. And I can only say "the 
will of the Lord be done." 

From the happiness which I enjoy in my family, 
in a social capacity, a continuation of life is nattering 
and truly desirable; but, particularly, on your ac- 
count I wish to protract life to a more advanced pe- 
riod. My sons, I feel myself greatly interested in 
the turn you may take. Could I stay but long 
enough to guard you from the rocks and shoals which 
are so numerous, and so dangerous to youth, as just 
launching out into the troubled ocean of this life; and 
more especially, could I be so happy, as with success 
to direct your feet into the paths of virtue, religion 
and happiness, with a rational hope that you would 
persevere therein, the bed of death would be render- 
ed comparatively soft, easy and comfortable. 

As this is, however, a privilege which I do not ex- 
pect to be favored with, I think it an indispensable 
duty now to testify the love which I bear to you as a 
father, who desires above all things to promote your 
interest and happiness through life and in death. 
In order to this I shall leave you a few cautionary 
hints and observations on paper, that you may, from a 
principle of filial duty, have recourse to them, as 
speaking for me, when I shall be silent in the dust. 

Then, my sons, that you may derive some advan- 
tage from my age and experience, and the observa- 
tions I have made, during my progress through life, 
for more than half a century, attend while I assure 
you, that your temporal happiness will greatly de- 
pend on the principles which you have, and may yet 
imbibe of justice, honor, and religion. To acquire, 
and to maintain these principles with unshaken firmness 
and fidelity in your transactions, both of a moral and 
religious nature, will secure to you the approbation of 
the wise and discerning part of mankind; and, what is 
infinitely more desirable and happifying, it will secure 
to you the enjoyment of an approving mind. It will 
at the same time inspire you with a rational hope in 
the divine approbation. This hope towards God is 
a source of consolation and support under the heavi- 
est calamities of human life. 

A dishonest man, who has no regard for the princi- 
ples of justice and equity in his intercourse with the 
world, lives like Cain, in a state of self-condemna- 
tion, which excludes the possibility of his being hap- 
py. Sentiments of honor have no influence upon 
such a man. He is under the entire government of 
selfish principles. The interests of his neighbour 

cannot stand in competition with his own, which, 
when laid in the opposite scale, always preponderate. 
In the view of gain, he loses sight of reputation 
and descends to such meannesses as often render him 
an object of just contempt. With their good opinion, 
men are induced to withdraw their confidence from 
such a man, leaving him to make his way through 
life the best way he can. This you will think a 
very uncomfortable state of dereliction; indeed it is. 
And I pray God that you may never fall into it. 

To prevent this it will be necessary to act always 
on your guard. Never to be too self-confident, but 
rather jealous over your own heart; for such is the 
imperfection of human nature, that men are often 
deceived in themselves, while exposed to the eye of 
the world, in a very different light from that in Avhich 
they are accustomed to view themselves. 

Let me then entreat you to let simple honesty, 
and undisguised truth characterize your transactions, 
both civil and social, and particularly in your matters 
of trade and traffic. Honesty is, and will ever be 
found, the best policy. 

There is nothing more disgraceful to a man, than 
a disposition to deviate from the simplicity of truth, 
either by misrepresentations, prevarications, or a pas- 
sion for idle story-telling, whereby some men who 
might otherwise have been respectable, have rendered 
themselves very ridiculous, and even contemptible. 
In respect to these things, I wish you never to be off 
your guard. 

The world is envious and ill-natured. I have found 
it so, particularly since I became possessed of pro- 
perty. To possess more than some others, is a crime 

sufficient to make the naturally envious and splenetic 
one's enemies. From a general notion that wealth 
gives power and influence, those who may be below 
you in this respect, will always view you with a 
jealous eye, and be ever ready to misconstrue your 
best actions. When you see this observation veri- 
fied, let it not excite your resentment, but endeavour 
to overcome this evil with good; at the same time 
maintain your firmness, in the exercise of religion, 
and those noble and manly virtues which I have 
mentioned. I have more than once seen such a con- 
duct make an enemy ashamed of himself, and in 
some instances even convert him into a friend. 

Be the disposition of the world towards you as it 
may, it will be your best policy, to be always closely 
united with each other, in the bonds of fraternal af- 
fection, a two-fold cord is not easily broken; counsel 
and advise each other, with candour and love. Do 
not, as I have known some brothers do, live at vari- 
ance, and make parties against one another. Such 
live in disgrace, and are ridiculed by the partizans 
they make. Besides, as if under the curse of hea- 
ven, I never knew them do well. Therefore, my 
sons, "let brotherly love continue." 

In respect to the conduct which I wish you to ob- 
serve towards your mother, it is proper to observe, 
that it will always be no less your interest than your 
duty, to pay her every attention that would be proper 
and becoming to an own mother. To this she has a 
just claim, for sundry weighty reasons; as, 

1st. Because she has treated me, your father, with 
every attention which might have a tendency to aug- 
ment or increase a felicity which I have enjoyed in 

my union with her almost without jar or interrup- 
tion; and, in a word, has in all respects been every 
thing that I could have wished or desired in a wife. 
May you have as much to say with equal truth, 
when you shall have been as long married, as I have 
been to her! 

She has spirit, without which, no woman was ever 
good for any thing; she has also a considerable share 
of discernment, so that an impropriety of conduct to- 
wards her would be sure to be noticed, and perhaps 
excite a proper degree of resentment on her part. I 
must therefore, as a father who loves you, and wishes 
above all things else of a temporal nature, to promote 
your interest and happiness, request that you will op- 
serve the exactest propriety in your deportment to- 
wards her; that you will at all times, observe the 
strictest decorum, and that upon all occasions you 
will be kind and obliging. She is very capable of 
advising you in your affairs, no less so than myself, 
who have a thousand times been advised by her, and 
I now beg that you will attend to her directions, as to 
the wise counsels of a parent. To such attention 
from you she is, in the second place, entitled — 

Because ever since she has been my wife she has 
been your mother also, not in law only, but in the ex- 
ercise of an unwearied attention to what she thought 
would promote your interest, or rational gratification; 
indeed I have often been prompted by her in matters 
of indulgence towards you both. Then forget not to 
exercise the same tender care and indulgence towards 
her, in her disconsolate and widowed state, when I 
shall be no more to comfort her. 

Look not for perfection in human nature; and make 


every possible allowance for age and infirmity. You 
may appear no less imperfect to others than they do 
to you, and when most disposed to blame, the fault 
may be most in yourselves; when we expect too 
much from others, we are sure to meet with disap- 

I became possessed of a negro property by my 
union with your mother. This (though, alas! a most 
troublesome property) I have carefully kept for you 
as a sacred deposit. I have been so far from squan- 
dering or spending it, that I have carefully improved 
it, by all the frugality and economy I have been mas- 
ter of. The addition I have made, has been chiefly 
in lands and improvements. The lands I have pro- 
cured for you are some of the most valuable in point 
of fertility, timber and conveniency to trade, in the 
county. Care and industry, sobriety and economy, 
are all that are necessary to make you wealthy in a 
few years. But to be wealthy alone, is not sufficient 
to make you either happy or respectable. In order to 
this, you must be prudent, wise, discreet, and affable 
in your deportment, contented in the enjoyment of a 
competency, with which an indulgent Providence has 
blessed you, and above all things, you must never 
forget the liberal author of your blessings, but piously 
devote yourselves to him, and in all things imitate his 
benevolence in the exercise of charity and a diffusive 
good will towards men. 

The moment you become irreligious and insensible 
of your obligations to God, you will begin to grow 
remiss in your duty towards men, and cease to be 
happy. You will ever find that the truest happiness 
results from an unshaken integrity in the exercise of 


your duty both towards God and towards your neigh- 
bour. I can truly say I have found it so, and when 
I have heard myself unjustly reproached, I have de- 
rived great consolation from the approbation of my 
own mind. I am however mortified on a retrospect, 
to think that my life has been so imperfect, and I 
wish you to improve on my imperfect example; and 
as you tender your happiness and respectability in 
life, be ever on your guard against whatever may tend 
to seduce you from the practice of virtue, sobriety 
and economy; lest you finally sink into idleness, ex- 
travagancy, and dissipation, which are sure to termi- 
nate in disgrace and misery, 

You can never be treated with superior respect un- 
less your conduct should entitle you to it, by its su- 
periority to that of the vulgar and low-bred. People 
are generally better judges of merit than we think 
they are: and where it really is, it never fails to com- 
mand less or more of respect and esteem. Unjust 
pretensions set a man in the light of a counterfeit— 
a despicable pretender to what he is not. 

They are often no less accurate in their judgment 
of what is becoming the character of a gentleman; 
and on the contrast of what fixes a disgraceful stain 
upon a conspicuous character. 

The character of a christian and a gentleman are 
very consistent. The latter is highly improved by 
the softening and meliorating influence of the former. 
I wish you, my sons, to unite them, that you may be 
in favour with both God and man. 

To this end cultivate the softer tempers, in the ex- 
ercise of resolution and firmness. Beware of giving 
up the reins to passion; unbridled passion will grow 


daily more and more turbulent, and at last spurn all 
restraint from the rules of decency and good breed- 
ing. This renders a man a truly pitiable object. To 
manage negroes without the exercise of too much 
passion, is next to an impossibility, after our strongest 
endeavours to the contrary; I have found it so. I 
would therefore put you on your guard, lest their pro- 
vocations should on some occasions transport you 
beyond the limits of decency and christian morality. 

Let this consideration plead in their favour, and at 
all times mitigate your resentments. They are slaves 
for life. They are not stimulated to care and indus- 
try as white people are, who labor for themselves. 
They do not feel themselves interested in what they 
do, for arbitrary masters and mistresses; and their 
education is not such as can be expected to inspire 
them with sentiments of honor and gratitude. We 
may justly expect rather that an oppressive sense of 
their condition would naturally have a tendency to 
blunt all the finer feelings of nature, and render them 
callous to the ideas of honor and even honesty. 

It will be necessary that you keep an overseer: and 
this will be attended with so much expense that it will 
require you to be very cautious, that your expendi- 
ture may not in the run of the year, exceed the clear 
income of your respective farms; and to fall back but 
a little every year, will soon destroy your small capi- 
tal. Endeavour, therefore, to gain a little every suc- 
ceeding year to the principal, without which you can 
live neither safe, easy, nor happy. 

This will make it necessary that you keep exact 
accounts of profit and loss; also that you pay a close 
attention to the man into whose hands you entrust the 


management of your plantation affairs. Overseers 
are too generally very unfaithful in the discharge of 
the trust reposed in them. This never fails to injure 
the indolent and careless employer. 

To make him attentive to your business be not too 
familiar. Familiarity will totally destroy your influ- 
ence over him, and while you maintain a prudent re- 
serve towards him, be not wanting in decent respect 
for him as a man, and a man whom you have honored 
with a trust. If he has any merit he will endeavour 
to deserve it — and if he has none, it may have a dif- 
ferent effect; in this case it will be proper, if you can 
do better, to dismiss him. 

Endeavour to treat your negroes well, and to get 
your plantations in the best order possible, as a change 
may take place sooner than is generally expected in 
respect to slavery. 

Should that change take place, this low, laborious 
land will not suit you altogether. But as it is kindly 
to the production of wheat, you had better fall into 
the northward manner of farming: that is, to have 
meadow, to furnish hay for your stock in the winter, 
and have fewer hogs, that much corn may not be ne- 
cessary. It would be advisable to get a man from the 
northward, to initiate you into this way of living, and 
their manner of husbandry. 

Should it please God to prolong your lives, you 
may think it best to sell your possessions in this low 
country, and to move westwardly. If you should, be 
sure to procure a good and convenient spot, and well 
situated for health; that is, high, and not having any 
low or marshy ground to the southward of the house. 
Such low lands, if brought into cultivation, are ex- 


tremely unwholesome, from the copious exhalations 
which are thrown in upon a family by the south- 
wardly winds, which prevail naturally in the sum- 
mer season. 

The lands which I have procured for you in Cum- 
berland are, I hope, good; and should you think of 
going to that country, they will be valuable — and al- 
though you might not approve their local situation, 
you will be able to sell them and buy where you 
would choose to live. 

Above all things, strive to imbibe the sacred spirit 
of religion; it consists in the love of God shed abroad 
in the heart. This love, where it is, regulates the 
conduct of the christian towards every one with whom 
he may be conversant; it is this principle, and the ex- 
ercise of it, that can make him happy, both in life and 
death — and it is this principle, (namely,) the love of 
God prevailing in his soul in time, that prepares the 
christian for the full and final enjoyment of God in 
eternity! where the righteous shine as the brightness 
of the firmament, and as the stars with undiminished 
splendor for ever and ever. May God almighty bless 
you, my sons! and make you better and more useful 
men than your affectionate father has had it in his 
power to be. 


The above was drawn up without study or premed- 
itation: you will therefore, my sons, take it, not as 
a correct and studied performance, but as the friendly 
effusions of a father's heart. Taking it thus, I flat- 
ter myself you will let it have its due weight on both 
your hearts and lives. Vale, semper vale! 

This book must not 
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